KANSAS CITY, Mo. — At age 35, cornerback Terence Newman of the Cincinnati Bengals is the graybeard, the elder statesman of the most tenured active NFL players from Kansas State.
Newman is still playing at a high level in this his 11th season. He spent his first nine seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, who selected the Salina native as the No. 5 overall pick in the 2003 draft.
Second on the list is do-everything scatback Darren Sproles of the New Orleans Saints. At 30, Sproles is in the midst of his ninth season. K-State’s career rushing leader, totaling 4,979 yards, Sproles was chosen in the fourth round of the 2005 draft by the San Diego Chargers, whom he played for until 2010 before signing as a free agent with the Saints.
This brings us to Chargers offensive lineman Jeromey Clary, No. 3 on the list and in his eighth season — all with San Diego — a sixth-round draft back in 2006.
“It’s a true dream-come-true,” said the 6-foot-6, 320-pound Clary, after his team’s recent trip to Kansas City to play the Chiefs. “There’s no way I could have dreamt this in my wildest dreams, to be here for eight years.”
Clary, 30, a native of Norfolk, Neb., is a rarity in that he is one of very few players to spend an entire career in the league with just one team.
“Not only being in the NFL for this long, but to be on the same team the entire time, it’s definitely a blessing,” Clary said.
What’s been the key to his longevity?
“I think it comes down to a heckuva lot of luck,” Clary said. “Maybe a lot of flexibility, and being able to play different positions… just a lot of hard work and a lot of luck.”
After spending his entire career at right tackle, Clary was moved to guard in the offseason, yet promptly moved back to his tackle post.
“I played at tackle the first seven years,” he said. “This year is my first year to play guard, and now I moved back out at tackle. Going back out to tackle wasn’t a big deal. Old habits die hard, so it was easy to get back out there and feel comfortable.
“Making the transition to guard was a little tough at first, but I got really comfortable, so I look forward to the chance get back in there.”
Claryisn’t the only former Wildcat playing for the Chargers today, either. In his first year with the team is former K-State linebacker Reggie Walker.
A fifth-year pro, Walker spent his first four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals after entering the league in 2009 as an undrafted free agent.
In his second game for the Chargers at outside linebacker after moving from the inside, Walker had a crucial third-down sack on Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith during the AFC West battle on Nov. 24. For the season, Walker is tied for the team lead with four sacks.
Walker, a 6-0, 244-pound native of Sacramento, Calif., appeared and lettered in 46 career games for the Wildcats (31 starts) and collected 163 tackles, five sacks 15.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, six passes defended and one fumble recovery.
“When I was at Kansas State, I always knew that I was going to go to the league, no matter how bad the situation there was,” Walker said. “I wasn’t sure how long I was going to be in there.
“I didn’t know what to expect from it, but I’m a pretty confident guy, I would say.”
Walker was one of several former players who made it back to Manhattan for K-State’s homecoming game earlier this season.
“I went back for the West Virginia game and talked to him then,” Walker said of Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder. “I have always had a lot of love for Bill. He recruited me.”